In The Swerve, I read that when the Bill of Rights was drafted, the word Happiness was a last-minute substitution for Pleasure. Among the founding fathers, Jefferson was not the only student of Epicureanism, holding pleasure as a divine source of truth. The more Puritanical of his peers insisted on the downgrade.
Imagine if US judicial history were marbled with references to Pleasure instead of Happiness as our unalienable birthright.
Rediscovering this one word could lead to a reexamination of many aspects of American life.
Swapping Proof for Discovery
I recently took up challenge to write 30 short essays in a row. Halfway through the month, dutifully churning out my essays (lots of them wound up on this blog) I noticed something about the folks who made up my cohort: lots of them were writing ultra-punchy, focused essays loaded with advice on how to blast through racks of business books on doublespeed while maxing out your abs, increase your productivity while inspiring your team to be more vulnerable, adding that fifth side hustle while robo-trading crypto, and generally deliver a decisive beat-down to the game of life.
A few of my peers, however, took in the instructions on writing super-punchy, clickable tweets but made the decision to write whatever the hell they felt like. Many of these essays included poetry, myths, dreams, multi-generational life secrets. This wild rush of creative blooming showed up in the form as well: people began sketching, designing, inventing. Then the actual means of production began to explode. People went from writing text-based essays to recording audio and video versions of their essays. Next, they started experimenting with new ways to generate and realize ideas, including asking questions, inviting individuals and groups to contribute. What began as a pretty constrained writing exercise branched, bloomed, spilled out of its container and mutated unpredictably.
As I read and responded to this crazy unfolding, I began to see that my initial approach was pretty limiting. I had approached this month-long daily essay challenge with one huge motivation – I was going to prove to myself that I could follow through on something.
My tendency to hyper-focus, especially when I have an accompanying emotion (such as fear) combined to make me pretty inflexible. My key motivation was Proof. I wanted proof I could do it despite the fear I would disappoint myself. I approached each piece of writing like a factory job. With the topic planned, I just needed to bolt it together and cut it down to 250 words.
But Hamilton already invented the factory.
As I plowed away, cranking out a couple weeks of the topics I’d stockpiled, the fear started to lift. Then I started to suspect the experimental writers were having more fun, getting more out of the exercise. So I began loosening my grip on my topics. Where I had always started my draft the night before, I began showing up at my writing spot with no idea what I was going to write about.
It was WAY more fun.
Becoming an Epicurean
Having heard the phrase “How you do anything is how you do everything”, I began to realize I had begun approaching my creativity in a joyless, transactional way a long time ago. Through this challenge, I have begun to outgrow this factory mindset.
Instead of writing to prove something to myself, I am learning how to write as an act of discovery.
Instead of picturing myself in a factory, I’m planting a garden for moonlit seances, choreographing ecstatic dance for imaginary animals, plumping a buckwheat pillow on a hilltop where I can take notes, or go join the action.
The result: Pleasure